I-125 BSA spill...help needed

David L. Haviland, Ph.D. dhavilan at IMM2.IMM.UTH.TMC.EDU
Mon May 5 13:56:58 EST 1997

 At 11:00 5/3/97 -0400, sunfish wrote:


>Did you carefully read that student's note before your reply ?
>I think you were more than unfairly harsh on a student who was seeking
>advice because his thesis supervisor appears to not be very concerned
>about the safety of the students in his lab.

Oh yes!  Many times...  I even delayed my response by 24 hours to make sure
I wanted to step into this...

>The key thing to remember is that *THIS STUDENT WAS NOT THE ONE WHO
>concerned because the spill was never reported by the person who
 >spilled the radioactivity...god knows what other things such a careless
>student would not report. We have seen instances of some students who
>appear to have no concern for others' safety and spread contamination all
>over the place endangering the safety of everyone in the lab.
>It is these students that have to be taken care of, not those that are
>"insubordinate" for reporting such flagrant violations of radioisotope

I understand that Zoom was *not* the student that spilled the reagent.
However, he is as much a part of it as he did not take it upon himself to
report the incident.   

Like you, having "been there and done that" all too many times, Lord knows
what else has been contaminated with the initial spill.  That labeled BSA
likely went all over the place, not just his arm.  If the situation had
been reported immediately, the extent of the spill can be assessed, and
clean up could have begun immediately.  The situation was only made worse
by having both of them not report the incident.

Side note:  I will back down somewhat.  A second "clarification" note by
Zoom would suggest that the PI has minimal concern for the safety of those
in his lab.  Especially so if the other grad student continued to work with
the 125-BSA later that day without gloves.   If the Rad Safety group at his
institution is doing its job, they should know better than any of us if
this is true.   If that truely be the case, the grad student needs his head
examined, and Zoom needs to find another lab to work in.

>I do think that the student should have contacted his thesis supervisor,
>who should have then handled the affair. I agree that this student's course 
>of action was wrong. If the thesis supervisor did not even know the spill
>had occurred (a thesis supervisor can't see your every move...) then it is
>bad protocol to bypass him/her and go to the radiation officers. Direct
>contact with safety officials should not have occurred unless the thesis
>supervisor did nothing to rectify the situation. 

I agree, especially with the last line.  I do not blindly support going to
the PI if the PI has a propensity of  ignoring rules and common sense
saftey procedures.  However, if the PI couldn't be bothered with such
trivial matters, then going to Rad saftey is the only course.  But that
doesn't really sove the problem does it?

>> Like it or not, there is a "chain of command" in a lab and your are obliged
>> to follow it.  By not reporting it to your advisor (or the senior
>> investigator at hand), but to the Health and Safety officer,  and  delaying
>> when you informed someone signifies your (and your friend's) inability to
>> follow protocol - that makes you both insubordinate.
>this chain of command comment is absolute garbage... what are we in the
>army now David ???  That is absolutely ludicrous. If somehow a radioactive
>spill does not get reported to the radiation officers by a thesis
>supervisor, clearly then one has to take matters into one's hands. 

No, not really.  You can tell me how things operate in Canada.  I have no
idea.  What I do know is that in the U.S.,  *I* am solely responsible for
everything that transpires in my lab, morally, leagally, and financially.
In this country I have to be not only a scientist, but a business manager
to finanacially run a lab, chearleader and morale officer to keep
productivity and enthusaism up, personal life crisis counselor, skilled
writer and salesman to "sell it" to granting agencies, and I won't even
discuss trying to maintain a famly!   And for about 99% of the time, I love
every minute of it.  

However, I'm also the one that will be fleeced by the NRC and OSHA if
things in the lab aren't up to snuff.  This situation is likely due to our
wonderful legal system and the "sue everybody" mentality.   Past and
present universities have made it loud and clear that *me*, not them, are
financially liable if citations are issued.  Sure, they might cover some of
the fines if they exceed the resources in my grant, but there is no
guarantee that I'll have a job if the fines are very steep.  As I said, I
am responsible for what transpires in my lab.   

So if the buck stops at my desk, then there is a price.   I want to know
everything that transpires in my lab.  If anything hits the floor, I want
to know about it and I don't care if it is a beaker, agarose gel, or a 32P
probe for a library.  I'm very open to new ideas, approaches to methods and
areas of research.  However, *I* call the shots when it comes to the
handling of radiation and hazzardous reagents.   It is done my way, without
exception, or they are free to leave.   

You might ask, would I dismiss someone for a spill?  Of course not,
accidents happen.  We clean them up and learn from them.  If I were to have
someone that had no regard for good lab practice, and contributed to a
number of spills, ignored my rules, then yes - they can find somewhere else
to work.  

In short, the PI is the boss and as such decisions start with that
individual, or should...

>> short of negligence.  Your thesis advisor ( or most senior researcher) is
>> the person to decide whether or not to call Health & Safety, not you.  The
>> only time where lab personnel would call the campus officer would be if the
>> PI has had or demonstrates a history of ignoring regulations - and in that
>> case, discipline and enforcement would be up to the collective faculty.
>I have never worked with 125-I and I don't know if regulations here in
>Canada are any different that in the US, but this statement above is so
>big brotherish it's spooky...up here we're supposed to report *everything*
>and the government agency that monitors radioisotope usage then decides
>whether something is worth following up or not...the supervisor *does not*
>decide what should or should not be reported...again, this sounds like the
>army for chrissakes...we're talking about people's safety here...the spill
>should have been reported, plain and simple. Whether there is anything to
>be done in response to the spill is a decision made by radiation
>officials, *not* the thesis supervisor.
>It sounds to me that if anyone is at fault here, aside from the guy who
>spilled the stuff, it's the thesis supervisor *and* the radiation
>officials. First off, no students in a lab should be left *uninformed* as
>far as any hazardous chemicals being used in the lab. *Everyone* should
>know what is being done and whether or not there are any hazards or not.
>If I work in a lab and someone is using 125-I without a shield, I want to
>know and I want to have the *right* to ask any radiation officers whether
>this is safe or not. I think any grad student has the right to question
>the "safety" of a lab procedure. The soothing calming voice of a
>thesis supervisor saying that "it's ok" is not nearly enough. Any such
>concerns should be raised with radiation officials and they can provide
>the necessary information.  From the fact that this student doesn't know
>the risks of the 125-I that is being used in the lab, it seems that their
>radiation training is not all that great. If this is the case, then the
>radiation officials are at fault.

For the most part, Sunfish, I agree with you here.  My current and previous
Rad Saftey groups prefer that we assess a situation and if it is beyond our
means, they would then prefer to be called.  I prefer to do it that way as
well.  If a minor spill occurs, everybody stops, and gieger counters do the
"elephant walk" combing every square cm of the floor of the radiation area
and hot areas are located and cleaned up, and documented honestly.   I have
no problem in calling Rad Saftey if the magnitude of a spill is beyond our
means - this would be indictative of a more serious problem that I'll come
to later.  The error comes when a PI or anyone in the lab doesn't follow
protocol and in the case in question, when there is a delay in reporting an

Again, I think the idea here is whether or not Zoom's PI has a responsible
attitude toward the safety of the people in the lab.  With his first note,
it appeared to me that they blew it by not reporting the incident to the
PI.  The PI was then mad as he had not been informed *first*.  I would be
*very* upset under similar circumstances.  However, with Zoom's second
note, if true, would suggest that the PI has not even established a
protocol for spills.  This is a different issue.

Of course, anyone should be able to call Saftey personell  for questions...
 people need to know what they are working with.  However, some initiative
on their part would help.  I got the feeling from the first note that at
least the grad student that spilled the reagent didn't care.   Zoom needs
to find out what he's working with first, preferably starting with the PI.

Yes, I have been involved in the clean up of large spills.  They have
usually been brought about by having a hot area used by up to three or four
separate labs where egos prevail over good lab practice.  Similar to this
case, a research fellow dropped part of his probe on the floor.   Of
course, he didn't think that he did it and we later found out that he
neglected even to do a sweep with the geiger counter to double check
himself.   No one was told.  It laid undetected for about 3 days.
Housekeeping came in and proceeded to wet mop the floors.  Needless to say,
a few hot spots that would have been easily contained and cleaned were
sloshed around and a general 3-4000 cpm haze (32P) was delivered over about
2000 sq feet of lab space.   The first thing to do is evaluate and asses
the spill.   A complete sweep for a few drops is no problem for a lab that
takes its radiation seriously.  It can be done without having to consult
rad saftey.   This particular spill was clearly beyond our means and we
decided call rad saftey for assistance very soon after realizing its
extent.  Rad saftey supervised the clean up that took the better part of
2.5 days.

** Edited **

>aside from the incredibly denigrating tone of your response (questioning
>this student's integrity - what fucking cojones - your attitude is
>absolutely infuriating !!!!), it appears to me that from the tone of this
>concerned student, that he/she actually cares about radiation safety, and
>that he/she has a healthy respect for it and wants to know a little more
>about any possible health hazards...seems like a normal thing for most of 
>us that don't want to sprout a third arm... What appears to be lacking
>here is some training and some hard answers to calm any fears. Seems to me
>like the sort of stuff that would be learned through radiation training.

I agree, but again I feel that Zoom was part of the problem by not
reporting the incident himself.  He needs to be told of the potential
hazzards of 125I and some research on his part would help calm any

>From the fact that some clown didn't report the spill in the first place,
>it seems that radiation training at this facility is a little weak.

Couldn't agree more.  Then would not the responsibility of training fall on
his mentor?   

 David L. Haviland, Ph.D.
 Asst. Prof. Immunology 
 University of Texas - Houston, H.S.C.
 Institute of Molecular Medicine  
 2121 W. Holcombe Blvd.  
 Houston, TX  77030 
 Internet:"dhavilan at imm2.imm.uth.tmc.edu" 
 Voice: 713.500.2413  FAX: 713.500.2424
" Sometimes you're the windsheild, sometimes you're the bug."

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